Friday, November 09, 2007

A tsunami of vets coming home to become homeless:

Last night, as I was taking a cig break outside, I saw a homeless guy wrapped in a blanket making his way down the street. The first thought that came into my head was that it was way too cold for that poor bastard to be wondering around with just a blanket on to keep him warm. I think it was probably in the 40's at that point and as I tried to imagine spending the night out in the elements, probably have to sleep on the sidewalk or on a bench, the thought occurred that there was a 1 in 4 chance that the man making his way down the street to nowhere was a vet.

The Alliance to End Homelessness released a report yesterday saying that veterans, though only 11% of the population, make up a quarter of all homeless people. AP reports that according to data from 2005 Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau, "194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans. In all of 2006, the alliance estimated that 495,400 veterans were homeless at some point during the year"

That's almost half a million veterans who served their country left out in the cold to fend for themselves. Sure we talk a good game about supporting the troops and drive around in our gas guzzlers plastered with American flags and yellow ribbons -- we even have a holiday for them -- but when it comes right down to it, the minute they get home -- we cut them loose. They're asked by their government to go to foreign lands to kill or be killed, yet when the things they saw or did over there become too much and their lives start falling apart, all they've got to rely on is good old American boot strap pulling.

Same as it always was.

As Marine General Smedley Butler wrote a long time and many wars ago about those who do the fighting for our country:

"There they were remolded; they were made over; they were made to 'about face'; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and, through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed. Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another 'about face.'" [War is a Racket]

The Vietnam vets know all about this (just walk down any street in DC and ask one) and now the Iraqi and Afghanistan vets are finding out the same much quicker, though. Whereas in the old days it took about a decade for a vet's life to implode, the Iraq vets are finding it happens much quicker now. Daniel Tooth, the director of Veteran's Affairs for Lancaster, PA says that he's expecting a "tsunami" of vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan in need of mental heath care. Of the 750,000 or so troops that have come home from W.'s wars, so far, many are finding that the VA is doing a somewhat less than spectacular job of taking care of them.

And the Bush administration isn't exactly stepping up to plate when it comes to kicking in the money to deal with the problem. NEWSWEEK reported that Linda Blimes, a policy analyst at Harvard, "calculates that over the next decade, the disability costs for vets will be at least $60 billion -- more than six times the administration's official projections."

As usual, W. & Co. like to create their won reality and any number cruncher that works for this president knows better than to report bad news. The same goes for the Pentagon which doesn't add into their tally of 27,753 wounded in Iraq the 48,559 diagnosed with PTSDs this year, up from 29,041 last year. [USA]

Money talks, vets walk.

I note today the irony of a Veteran's Day sale ad in today's Inquirer, which totally dwarfs an article about the Department of Labor dropping the ball on getting reservist's jobs back once they return form their second, or third, or fourth deployments. AP reports that a study conducted by the Pentagon and released under duress to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee details increasing discontent among returning troops under strain from extended tours in Iraq. It found that "44 percent said they were dissatisfied with how the Labor Department handled complaints of employment discrimination based on their military status, up from 27 percent in 2004"

The Committe found also:

" Servicemembers are returning home only to realize that their deployment has put
their healthcare, their benefits, and even their jobs at risk. For example, among
post-9/11 returning Reservists and National Guard:

• Nearly 11,000 were denied prompt reemployment.

• More than 22,000 lost seniority and thus pay and other benefits.

• Nearly 20,000 saw their pensions cut.

• More than 15,000 didn’t receive the training they needed to return to their former

• Nearly 11,000 didn’t get their health insurance back."

If you lose your job when you get home and you've got to wait for six months, or a year (or forever) for the government to get around to getting after your former employer to give you your job back (which is the law of the land) you might just wind up on the streets these days. Landlords and banks generally don't give you a pass because the government is dragging their feet.

According to the article, of those seeking redress from the government for being illegally terminated, "29 percent said they had difficulty getting the information they needed from government agencies charged with protecting their rights, while 77 percent of those with a complaint said they did not even bother trying to get assistance, in part because they did not think it would make a difference."

The Pentagon also found that formal complaints to the Labor Department from reservists was at an all time high of 1,600 in 2005, not counting, AP reports, "the thousands more cases reported each year to the Pentagon for resolution by mediation."

Naturally, the Labor Department under Bush has been turned into a compliant puppy dog that no longer protects labor. Nowadays the Department of Labor is more focused on helping special interests screw the working man. Charles Ciccolella, Labor's assistant secretary for veteran's employment and training (I guess, the secretary was busy) says the solution is not to litigate but to educate the employer.

I guess the assistant secretary has never actually been in any work places around the country. You go into any break room in any company of any size and the first thing you see, right next to the OSHA poster and the minimum wage poster, is a gigantic Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) poster warning the employer that vets have a right to their jobs after serving their country. Employers know what the law is, they just rely on this administration and its business friendly bias to ignore the law and let them get on with making money (and not paying their fair share in taxes).

So this Veteran's Day, remember the guy in the blanket and the 20 year-olds of today who you'll be seeing walking the streets for the next 50 years. They volunteered to do their duty for King and Country and this is what they got.

Shame on all of us.


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